Claude Shannon was a genius of the twentieth century, the sort of person whose intellect bridged multiple fields of inquiry. Today, he is best known for his work on information theory and his seminal work The Mathematical Theory of Communication,1 published in the late 1940s during his time working at Bell Labs in America. Shannon’s ideas touch us whenever we use a telephone or computer. His key insight was to change the conception of what information is and how it is transferred. He realised that, when thinking about the engineering behind communication, semantics were not so important, but the information content of a message was vital. Shannon showed that, when sending information over a ‘noisy’ channel (one that introduces errors) it is always possible to transmit virtually error-free, provided the rate of transmission doesn’t exceed the capacity of the channel.
Let’s bring that back to the befuddled Twitter user, looking at both the rate of transmission, and the noisiness of the channel. The rate of transmission (about two billion tweets a month from the top 10% of users2) is extremely high in the daily media flood. So too is the noise, as facts (are there still such things?) are ‘interpreted’ by any number of media outlets, politicians, and so on. Yet the channel capacity of our busy daily lives is rather restricted. Perhaps we should not therefore be surprised when the result is ineffectual information transmission with little to gain, other than elevated stress levels.
The trend in investment in recent years has definitively been towards the more information, the better.